General Articles

UNICEF Report Ignores Child Survival, Blasts Dangers of Childbearing to Women

Susan Yoshihara,

New York, NY ( — The UN children’s agency, UNICEF, launched its annual report this week claiming that, "Having a child remains one of the biggest health risks for women worldwide," and dedicated the 168-page flagship publication to the issue of maternal mortality, virtually ignoring the agency’s mandate of child survival.

The report recommends increased global financing of UN initiatives aimed at “family planning” and “reproductive health services” as the primary way to reduce maternal deaths, but also provides extensive evidence that there is no reliable data to substantiate its claims.

Entitled, “The State of the World’s Children 2009: Maternal and Newborn Health,” the study addresses the problem of 536,000 maternal and 4.7 million newborn annual deaths worldwide focusing on Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Yet, the report undercuts at length the validity of its own statistics, stating that a “high degree of uncertainty for maternal mortality ratios indicates that all data points should be interpreted cautiously,” and saying “The [UN’s] 2005 maternal mortality estimates are far from perfect,” merely reflecting “a strong commitment on the part of the international community to continually strive for greater accuracy and precision.”

And while it argues that “more than 99 per cent” of maternal deaths “occurred in developing countries,” it goes on to call “commonplace” the absence of data to make such a claim.

In fact, the report admits that only 35 percent of the data used to create the 536,000 number in 2005 was based upon “complete/good” data. A full 35 percent of the 171 countries surveyed to create the number had “no data.” Another 20 percent of the total maternal mortality figure was from “estimates” and “uncertain/poor data.”

Another contradiction in the report is its discussion of abortion.

According to the report, abortion complications are the smallest contributor to maternal death in every one of the three developing regions studied. By contrast, hemorrhaging is the cause of nearly 30 percent of maternal deaths in all three regions, followed by hypertension and sepsis. Undefined “other causes” account for nearly a third of deaths in Africa and one fifth of the deaths in Asia and Latin America.

Contradicting this evidence, the report calls for a “continuum of care” that promotes “reproductive health services,” a term used by some UN officials to include abortion. It then puts at the top of its eleven recommended interventions for reducing maternal deaths “promoting access to family planning services, based on individual country policies,” with skilled birth attendants and emergency obstetric care mentioned as lower priorities.

The report also claims that in 2005, heads of state created “a specific target on reproductive health: Millennium Goal 5, Target B,” which seeks to “Achieve, by 2015, universal access to reproductive health” and includes “contraceptive prevalence rate,” and “unmet need for family planning,” as indicators of attaining the target.

The UN Population Fund, contradictorily, claims that such a target was created in 2008. In fact, the heads of state rejected the target in 2005, and have never voted on or adopted such a target.

This is the second consecutive UNICEF annual report devoted to women’s rights rather than child survival.

Experts attribute the organization’s transformation from a service-delivery organization to a rights-activist agency to its adopting a “rights-based approach” some two decades ago. The adoption of the approach was a bureaucratic decision that includes the active promotion of both the Women’s Convention (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).